Rescued animals from Gaza zoo find new homes

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Notorious zoo in Gaza is closing and surviving animals are leaving

GAZA, Aug 24 (Reuters) - The last survivors of a Gaza zoo, where dozens of animals died of starvation and children petted stuffed carcasses, left on Wednesday for sanctuary outside the Palestinian territory.

Economic hardship deepened by war with Israel brought death to most of the menagerie of 200 at the privately owned complex in Khan Younis, in the southern part of the enclave.

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The 15 remaining animals rescued by the Four Paws international animal welfare group included a tiger, porcupines, an emu and five monkeys. A baby deer that was to have made the journey died in "a desolate cage" last week, the organization said.

"'Worst zoo in the world' now history," Four Paws declared in a statement announcing the zoo's closure.

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'Worst zoo in the world' closes
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'Worst zoo in the world' closes
A tiger named Laziz stands in its enclosure before it is taken out of Gaza by Four Paws International, at a zoo in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip August 23, 2016. Picture taken August 23, 2016. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
A monkey looks out of a crate on a truck as it waits to leave Gaza after it was evacuated by Four Paws International, at Erez Crossing between Israel and northern Gaza Strip August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Members of Four Paws International team examine a monkey before it is taken out of Gaza, at a zoo in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip August 23, 2016. Picture taken August 23, 2016. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Members of Four Paws International team examine monkeys before they are taken out of Gaza, at a zoo in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip August 23, 2016. Picture taken August 23, 2016. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
A truck loaded with crates containing animals leaves Gaza after being evacuated by Four Paws International, at Erez Crossing between Israel and northern Gaza Strip August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Laziz, an 8-year-old tiger, part of group of 15 animals from Gaza, the last survivors of the "worst zoo in the world", where dozens of animals died of starvation, is checked at the Hebrew University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Rishon LeZion in Israel, after leaving Gaza on Wednesday for sanctuary out the Palestinian territory, in a rescue mission organised by international animal welfare group Four Paws August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Nir Elias
A member of Four Paws International team carries a pelican to be taken out of Gaza, at a zoo in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip August 23, 2016. Picture taken August 23, 2016. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Laziz, an 8-year-old tiger, part of group of 15 animals from Gaza, the last survivors of the "worst zoo in the world", where dozens of animals died of starvation, is checked at the Hebrew University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Rishon LeZion in Israel, after leaving Gaza on Wednesday for sanctuary out the Palestinian territory, in a rescue mission organised by international animal welfare group Four Paws August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Nir Elias
Laziz, an 8-year-old tiger, part of group of 15 animals from Gaza, the last survivors of the "worst zoo in the world", where dozens of animals died of starvation, is carried out of his cage upon arriving at the Hebrew University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Rishon LeZion, Israel, after leaving Gaza on Wednesday for sanctuary out the Palestinian territory, in a rescue mission organised by international animal welfare group Four Paws August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Nir Elias
Crates containing animals are carried to be taken out of Gaza by Four Paws International, at a zoo in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip August 23, 2016. Picture taken August 23, 2016. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
A member of Four Paws International team carries a sedated monkey before it is taken out of Gaza, at a zoo in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip August 23, 2016. Picture taken August 23, 2016. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
KHAN YUNIS, GAZA - AUGUST 23: A monkey receives treatment at a zoo in Khan Yunis, Gaza on August 23, 2016. A group of veterinarians appointed by Austrian-headquartered group Four Paws have come to Gaza to transfer animals from the 'South Zoo', which was damaged in Israeli attacks on Gaza, to Jordan and Africa. The animals, which include monkeys, were brought from the zoo in the city of Khan Yunis to protected nature areas in Jordan and Africa. (Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
In this Tuesday Aug. 23, 2016 photo, Romanian Loana Dungler a member of the Four Paws International, examines a sedated deer as part of the preparations to transfer the animals from the zoo of Khan Younis to out of Gaza Strip. An international charity has removed 15 animals it rescued from the Gaza Strip's main zoo, dubbed "the worst in the world." Four Paws, an animal welfare group, will resettle the animals from the Khan Younis zoo abroad, where they will have a chance at a better life. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)
In this Tuesday Aug. 23, 2016 photo,Romanian Dr. Ovidiu Rosu, of the Four Paws International, examines a sedated monkey as part of the preparations to transfer the animals from the zoo of Khan Younis to out of the Gasza Strip. An international charity has removed 15 animals it rescued from the Gaza Strip's main zoo, dubbed "the worst in the world." Four Paws, an animal welfare group, will resettle the animals from the Khan Younis zoo abroad, where they will have a chance at a better life. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)
In this Tuesday Aug. 23, 2016 photo, sedated monkeys lay in a plastic boxs ready to be transferred from the zoo of Khan Younis to out of Gaza Strip. An international charity has removed 15 animals it rescued from the Gaza Strip's main zoo, dubbed "the worst in the world." Four Paws, an animal welfare group, will resettle the animals from the Khan Younis zoo abroad, where they will have a chance at a better life. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)
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Israel, which maintains tight restrictions on its border with Hamas Islamist-run Gaza, allowed the animals through the frontier and dubbed the transfer "Operation Safari."

Some were destined for new homes in sanctuaries in Israel and Jordan, and the tiger will be flown to Four Paws' Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa.

Four Paws said Gaza mission leader, veterinarian Amir Khalil, had now trained local colleagues in caring for wild animals.

"We hope they will use their gained know-how in the future to better help animals in need in Gaza," Khalil said.

The zoo's owner, Mohammad Oweida, once hosted family and school outings at the facility. But a seven-week war between Israel and Palestinian militants in 2014 prevented him getting enough food for the animals, many of which had been smuggled to the Gaza Strip through tunnels from Egypt.

Oweida stuffed 15 of the animals that died, including a lion and a chimpanzee - and put them on display in what Gaza residents called the "Jungle of the South."

"I have lived and worked nine years in this zoo. I was connected to the animals more than I was to people. Today I am forced to let them go so they can live better," Oweida, 26, told Reuters.

He said he will particularly miss eight-year-old tiger Laziz, whom he had raised since the animal was a cub.

"I feel as if my soul has been taken away," Oweida said.

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